On November 2012, there was a message on Facebook left for me, and many other local female mangaka artists. Miss Joanah was asking us on behalf of Miss Khursten if any of us would be available to speak to Dr. Fusami Ogi from Chikushi Jogakuen University in Japan as she was studying female comic artists in Asia.
Truthfully, when I first read the message, I didn’t think I would be chosen. For one thing, despite being an active mangaka, my last publication was with Oh No! Manga, which was not yet very well-known. For another thing, I had been experiencing a slump. Truthfully, at that time, drawing had become depressing for me, and who would want to speak to an artist who was ready to throw out her craft forever?
Nevertheless, Miss Joanah was very kind to me during my first participation in Komikon as an indie seller. I thought to myself that I should at least submit some kind of resume to Miss Khursten and let her decide whether or not Ogi-sensei would want to speak to me.
That confirmation email was the start of the end of all doubt.
The evening before the interview, Miss Khursten called to let me know that instead of just Ogi-sensei interviewing me, there may be two others. As if I wasn’t nervous enough, but I did my best to finish my work on time (I work at night) and prepared four copies of my latest work from Oh No! Manga to give them out as presents. I made sure also, as my Japanese friend advised me, to prepare a calling card, as she mentioned that it was customary to exchange cards during an interview.
Sleepless, I made my way to Ortigas and Shaw, got lost looking for the hotel, but managed to arrive… somewhat on time? I wasn’t sure how I would know or recognize them, since the lobby was full of people that morning! My phone rang at the appointed time, and sure enough, it was Ogi-sensei, and we managed to find each other in the lobby.
But surprise, surprise, there was more. Although I had a gut feeling that I should have passed by the Oh No! Manga office before the interview, I didn’t because I was afraid of being late. My friend told me that most Japanese usually arrive 15-30 minutes ahead of schedule for an appointed meeting. Because I got lost, I arrived about 10 minutes before! Not bad, if not for the shocking news that there will be five people interviewing me instead of three.
Five? Five?! I only brought 4 books!!!
This interview has started even more awkwardly than I anticipated.
In any case, Otto Fong, whose “Sir Fong” books I was familiar with, gave up his copy as the women of the research team would need it more than he did. I felt horrible to have not been prepared well enough, but vowed to myself that I would one day give him a copy! (And I did! This Summer Komikon 2013!)
I must confess, this was the first interview where I received gifts. Rare “The Rose of Versailles” gifts as well as little items wrapped in cute paper bags that I thought only existed in anime! I think I may have completely lost my cool there, but Rose of Versailles?! I drew Oscar when I was barely able to hold my pencil right! She’s one of my childhood heroes!
When I think about it now, I didn’t open the bag Ogi-sensei presented to me at once because I was taught not to do so in Chinese customs. I wonder if it’s different for the Japanese? Would that have been offensive? Eeep?
Anyway, introductions aside, and a cup of coffee later, these five people whom I had just met somehow made me stop and think. Sure, my style of drawing, which I love very much, is not mainstream, but so what? Even if not a lot of people like it, that only means that I can develop further and still remain true to myself. Even though the journey at that moment was so difficult that I wanted to give up drawing manga completely, why would I do that?
Here was Nagaike-sensei, who complimented my style and picked out exactly who my influences were.
Here was Shimada-sensei, who listened intently to my opinions and asked me to sign my book for her.
Here was Ogi-sensei, who asked to draw something for her and to keep in touch.
Here was Cheng Tju, who encouraged me to pursue the project I wanted to do most, but had been too afraid to do so.
And here was Otto Fong, who told me that my own frustrations on the limitations of drawing for children had also been his own.
At that moment, sleep deprived, tired, embarrassed, unsure of what the day would bring, I came to a realization. These five people, all of whom were very important and of high ranks, sat with me and spoke with me about my art. I was not compared nor placed second to anyone else as I had always experienced in the industry, and I was not judged nor put down by my career choice.
It was the first time I truly felt respected as a manga artist.
And for that, I am grateful to them forever.
Today, I keep this photo by my computer. It is the first thing that I see when I wake up, and the last thing I see when I sleep. Because I must always remind myself of my feelings from that day; that moment of happiness that rekindled my drive to become one of the best manga artists out there. For one day, I too, shall become important… like a motivational speaker who inspires young artists everywhere to pursue their dreams and not be afraid.
Thank you so much for meeting me, and I hope that one day we will all see each other once again.
And to Cheng Tju and Ogi-sensei… I will draw something better for you both next time when I am not half-sleep! Please throw those sketches out… I will replace them as soon as I can! >_<;;;